Angry Robot Redux

The UK election results have dominated the news for the last week, with the resounding failure to give any one party the mandate to govern and the potential dawn of a new era of consensual politics.  With the ink on the coalition agreement still wet, we all wait to see whether the politicians, media and the people can adjust to this change in circumstance, or whether we’ll be back to the polls within twelve months.

As is the way of things, that news overshadowed other news, and there was one thing which was particularly relevant tucked into pages of magazines such as The Bookseller and Publishers Weekly.  It was a story about my publisher, Angry Robot Books, and I thought I would share my personal take on recent developments with ARB.

I joined Angry Robot almost before it existed.  I met Marc Gascoigne at NewCon 4 in October 2008 where we got chatting about the new imprint he was setting up and he allowed me to pitch my book.  I can’t have messed that up too badly because he offered to read the manuscript and subsequently he and my agent, Jennifer Jackson, got together and carved out a two-book deal.  The deal was signed with HarperCollins, though, not with ARB directly.  Angry Robot was an imprint and part of the HarperCollins organisation and all the deals went through HarperCollins corporate lawyers.

It was great to have a world-renowned publisher behind my books.  Their global reach and reputation did me no harm at all and it meant that mainstream booksellers took all the ARB authors seriously.  It gave me presence in Australia and New Zealand and meant that ARB had some weight behind it when it launched in June-July 2009.

There were two sides to that coin, though.  Being a mainstream publisher, I was never quite sure that HarperCollins got the Angry Robot business model.  HC are a naturally conservative organisation focused on selling big-name authors into the best-seller lists.  While I would love to be part of the best-seller lists, I have to be realistic and accept that we may not get there in one step.  It takes time, effort, investment as well as really good books.

Angry Robot are much more experimental in their approach.  They are part of the new wave of publishers who are into social networking, eBooks, genre-crossing and a host of other things that do not, perhaps, sit easily with a large corporate mainstream publisher.  As a writer of urban fantasy historical action-adventure mysteries, this innovative approach was one of the things about ARB that appealed to me as an author.

In difficult times, conservative organisations tend to retrench and go back to their roots rather than experiment and innovate.  It’s a trend I think you will see carried through in the major publishing organisations over the next year or so.  Innovation requires investment and the majors have a great deal invested in the existing business model.  It is not in their interests to change the game now.  Change is in the wind, though, and change brings opportunity.

Last week it was announced that Angry Robot Books would no longer be part of HarperCollins, but would be re-launching as an independent publisher with the backing of Osprey Publishing.  The new company would be managed by the same team, led by Marc Gascoigne, with Lee Harris as Editor.  This means that that while I would still be published by Angry Robot Books, they would no longer have the HarperCollins name behind them.  They would be out on their own.

If that had happened twelve months ago, I think it would have been difficult.  Launching a new imprint into a crowded market is never easy and  without the reputation of HarperCollins behind it, it might have faltered, but a lot has happened in the last twelve months, and ARB now has a reputation of its own.

Gillian Polack, an Australian writer and editor commented:

“Angry Robot is rapidly becoming that rare (and almost old-fashioned) kind of imprint where you can look for the logo and trust their taste to guarantee a good reading experience.”

Over the past year, Angry Robot have published more than twenty books and received excellent reviews.  Where before the name was an unknown quantity, as Gill Polack says, it has become a name with an expectation of great reads behind it.  This hasn’t happened by accident as both Marc and Lee have worked extremely hard to create a brand that people trust.  There have been hiccoughs and challenging moments, but they have come through to a position where they no longer need a large corporate publishing house behind them.

Being independent also brings new opportunities.  The re-launched Angry Robot may be less constrained by corporate concerns, though I think they will be keen to maintain the momentum of the past year.  I know a lot of the ARB authors have new releases in the wings, so there’s much to look forward to.

And speaking of releases, there will be some delays.  Marc Gascoigne has been keen to commit to the schedule, but with a couple of months delay while all the elements that used to be handled by HarperCollins are sorted out.  This is only natural in the circumstances, but it does mean that Sixty-One Nails won’t be released in North America until the autumn, probably September or October.  The Road to Bedlam will also be delayed, with the release for the UK, international and North America editions delayed until the autumn, probably October – November.  As soon as I have confirmed dates for the revised schedule I’ll post an update, and I’m sure the Angry Robot team will too.

So the LibCons or ConDems, whatever you want to call them, are not the only ones with a new start ahead of them.  I wish Angry Robot Books a bright and successful future with a wave to HarperCollins for a fine start.  I think we will see some fabulous books from ARB over the next twelve months and I wish Marc and Lee every success.

Let’s see what they can come up with.

Comments are closed.